Vietnamese singer and political activist Mai Khoi was detained for eight hours in a move that Human Rights Watch says points to intensified government efforts to stifle political opposition
Vietnamese singer and pro-democracy activist Mai Khoi was detained for eight hours by authorities at Hanoi airport yesterday morning as part of an ongoing government crackdown on political dissent.
Khoi, who rose to fame in 2010 when state-controlled Vietnam Television named her hit single ‘Vietnam’ song of the year, has consistently come under fire from the ruling Communist Party for her pro-democracy activism and politically-charged lyrics.
In one of her latest singles, ‘Please, sir’, Khoi pleads with the Communist Party leader to grant everyday freedoms to ordinary people.
The 34-year-old’s pop career effectively ended in 2016 after she unsuccessfully campaigned to be on the ballot for an independent seat in the country’s National Assembly.
Her political activism won her a seat at a roundtable in Hanoi with then US President Barack Obama during his visit to the country in 2016. Months after the meeting, Khoi told Southeast Asia Globe that she hoped to use the meeting to convince Obama to pressure the ruling Communist Party into relaxing restrictions on civil liberties. Ultimately, she said, she left the meeting disappointed.
According to Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, Khoi’s high-profile detention reflects a severe tightening of the noose around freedom of expression in Vietnam, a downward spiral he linked to increasing US isolationism.
“Mai Khoi is someone who they [Vietnamese authorities] are certainly interested in and they see her as a dissident, but she is someone who is high-profile enough that they would basically leave her alone. This is the first [time] we have seen her subjected to the kind of things that your ordinary dissidents would face when they are trying to come back from overseas,” Robertson told the Guardian.
“I think the Vietnam government feels that the US and other countries are busy somewhere else and this gives them ample running room to crack down on the dissidents the way they have wanted to in the past.”
Khoi’s detention comes less than a year after renowned activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Mother Mushroom, was sentenced to ten years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state”, a judgement that moved more than 1,000 people to petition for her release.
Months after Quynh’s sentencing, 22-year-old blogger Nguyen Van Hoa was handed a seven-year prison sentence for reporting on the Formosa factory toxic waste spill in 2016, work that authorities said amounted to dissemination of anti-state propaganda.
Vietnam currently ranks 175th out of 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
According to Human Rights Watch, 129 people are currently detained in Vietnam for protesting against or criticising the government.